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The Lost City of Z Reclaims the Age of Exploration

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Percy Fawcett was the real-life soldier/explorer at the heart of The Lost City of Z, which is playing at The Flicks. - PUBLIC DOMAIN
  • Public Domain
  • Percy Fawcett was the real-life soldier/explorer at the heart of The Lost City of Z, which is playing at The Flicks.
In the early 2000s, archaeologists began unearthing a city in the Xingu region of South America that showed economic and technological development far advanced from what anthropologists believed possible.

Some would say there's nothing new under the sun, but the city in the Amazon, called "Kuhikugu," was, well, something new. Sort of. Its existence had been hinted at by soldier and explorer Percy Fawcett, who heralded the possibility of a sophisticated civilization in the area in 1914. Too bad for him, his claims were mostly met with incredulity.

Fawcett, his expeditions in South America and his mysterious fate are the subjects of The Lost City of Z, now playing at The Flicks. A tale of daring discovery, it's also a reminder that people are at their best when exploring new horizons—and there's much out there still to discover.

Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is himself a little incredulous at being transferred from the prospect of combat in World War I to a cartography gig in the Amazon, but his budding camaraderie with Henry Costin (a bearded, almost unrecognizable Robert Pattinson) and the discovery of pottery fragments and other artifacts deep in the jungle drive an obsession with a lost pre-colonial civilization.

His passion for the "City of Zed" is a mixed blessing for Fawcett and his wife Nina (Sienna Miller), who assists him in researching the city. It's also a source of consternation within the Royal Historical Society, where his ideas are met with derision from white supremacists convinced the locals are too savage for civilization. He does, however, find approval (and financial backing) in the form of the film's paper mache Mephistopheles, James Murray (Angus Macfadyen).

The Lost City of Z is a story about breaking barriers. On one level, it's a display of the assumptions society continues casting off today—about women, people of color, class, and what and how much there is left to know about the world. These preconceived notions are given fullest voice in the cities, offices and drawing rooms of London, where the camera crowds the action and everything feels like it's taking place at uncomfortably close range.

In the jungle, it's a different story altogether. Where the foliage cramps, the camera backs away to reveal pressing issues of survival and the clear-eyed calculations of people driven to discover. There, the restrictions of race, sex and class vanish, as do the characters' conceits. Costin grows from a bit of a lush to a faithful companion. Murray transforms from the charming financier and adventurer to a liability just waiting to trip up the whole expedition.

Based on the nonfiction book of the same name by David Grann, the film seems like a cross between an Indiana Jones movie and a Joseph Conrad novel—one where the world seems full of possibilities, rather than limitations.


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